Saturday, June 27, 2015

Star Wars Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios Day 2

The second day of our Star Wars Weekend was going to be spent at more add-on/reservation-only experiences: The Rebel Hangar Lounge and the Jedi Mickey's Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine.

We started the day in Epcot since our first reservation was a bit later in the afternoon. Our Epcot time was spent riding the headliners in Future World, enjoying a few drinks (except La Cava seems to have changed some of their margarita recipes for the worse), and having lunch at Via Napoli. We finally had a chance to enjoy the new musical act in Morocco and recommend spending some time watching their performance.

We walked to The Studios from Epcot and made it on time for our first reservation: The Rebel Hangar. This is a new bar/lounge experience designed for Star Wars Weekends in the Backlot Express. The theme is a catina on a rebel outpost on Sullust - where Nien Nunb is from ( does a better job capturing the details and they took pictures of the menu with backstory). The usual counter service was still available, but the dining section near Jedi Training Academy was closed off in order to house this experience. When we arrived at the podium we were immediately escorted to a nice corner table with a statue of Luke in his pilot outfit decorating the table. From time-to-time characters wandered around. While there we saw a cantina band member, a Jawa, and Ezra and Sabine from Rebels. For whatever reason, the Rebels characters only visited one table.

Our waitress was ever-present, but never rushing us. I think they wanted you to take your time and enjoy, but also did not want to miss the opportunity to turn a table. We both ordered speciality cocktails for the first round so we could complete our Star Wars Glow Cube collection. Between in-park drink kiosks and The Hangar we had pairs of Death Stars, X-Wings, and Falcons.

For food we tried the pork wings (Thermal Detonators) and fries (Pilot's Pommes Frites). The pork was tasty and a good size for one to enjoy and the fries were darn good. The garnish on the fries was a flat bread with a picture of Chewy.

The Rebel Hangar was nice. The Studios could use a few more lounges since Tune-In is now crowded at all times of the day. Having a Star Wars overlay was great, but really not a priority over having a comfortable place to take a break while in the park.

A few hours later we took part in Jedi Mickey's Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine. This is a buffet character dining experience in the restaurant that regularly features the Disney Jr. characters. Needless to say we've never dined here before because 1) we don't care about Doc McStuffins and 2) We typically avoid the buffets. When you enter the restaurant you are sent over to meet Jedi Mickey for a photo opp. After that we went to our table (and tables are packed in) and got the orientation from our server. We hit the buffet and found a few OK salads, veggie offerings, and entrees. While dining we met with Stormtroopers Donald, Leia Minnie, Darth Goofy, and Ewok Chipmunks. There were a few themed desserts - like Jawa cookies and Blue Milk soft serve. Overall this wasn't a horrible food experience like the Sci-Fi breakfast from the previous day. However, our bill for the meals and one drink each cost more than our superb meal at The Brown Derby the previous night (and no Zellwood corn to be found here).

After dinner we ducked into the Tune-in Lounge for some Dad's Lemonade to enjoy while we waited for another showing of Symphony in the Stars fireworks. This time we chooses a spot much further from the main stage so we could try to get more of the panoramic experience. We shot video from this location and the Premium Package location we had the night before to create the video below:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Star Wars Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios Day 1

Some years the stars align and the timing of a Disney trip coincides with one of their Star Wars Weekends. This ultimately means spending too much time in Disney's Hollywood Studios Park.

Star Wars Weekends occur over several weekends in May and June. The event includes a parade, special shows, character meet and greets, celebrity autograph sessions, and fireworks. Events are included with park admission, but there are several add-on experiences. For the Friday of our visit we purchased the Feel the Force Deluxe Package and had breakfast at the Sci-Fi Galactic Dine-In.
Our Deluxe Package came with a scary $99/pp price tag. Surprisingly enough this was a relatively decent value with these inclusions:

- Reserved Parade spot with unlimited bottled water, soda, popcorn, and frozen treats for 45 minutes before the parade, plus escort to the front of the stage for the show.

- Reserved spots at all the talk shows for the day.

- No-wait access to get into Darth's Mall exclusive store.

- Reserved space for part of the DJ Party and Fireworks with a dessert party and select alcoholic beverages.

After watching the opening show with the Stormtroopers we hauled it over to Star Tours for the Chewbacca/Ewok photo opportunity. We usually skip most of these opps since we spent HOURS doing this back in 2010, but Holly wanted to get this one again and we had the time. Chewbacca can sometimes have a 2 hour wait. Afterwards we took in Tatooine Traders (the year-round Star Wars store), which was a perfect time to visit since no one was in there yet.

Next it was time for our Sci-Fi Galactic Dine-In meal. This was a pricey character breakfast setup in the Sci-Fi Drive-In restaurant where you sit in a car-shaped table and watch clips on the drive-in style movie screen. Upon entry you get a photo opp with Darth Vader AND Boba Fett at the same time. We made sure we had the right outfits for this: Dave a Boba Fett Assassin's Creed mashup and Holly a Vader/Fett Selfie T-shirt. The photo the cast member took with our camera wasn't great and our free photo on Photopass (Disney's photo service) is not coming up free in the system.

Here's what was good about our experience: The cast members serving food were great and willing to bring whatever we wanted from the menu. The costumed characters were playful and fun to watch. The clips and drive-in style Star Wars themed ad cards were fun.
One-eyed Jawa
Here's what was bad about our experience: The food. Other than the pastry basket items, everything else was a flop. Bland mushy shrimp, way too salty steak, over-cheesed grits. Nothing was good except for the Vader Waffle. The drive-in tables were not designed for 40somethings to get in-and-out every so often for character photos. We know others really enjoyed this meal, but our experience was not good.

The first use of our Feel the Force Package came at the Legends of the Force Motorcade Parade. We were given our VIP pass lanyards and allowed into a small roped-off area at the corner of Hollywood Blvd by the main store and across from Sid's. For the 45 minutes before the parade we had access to bottled sodas, waters, popcorn, and Mickey Bars. We probably consumed/walked away with six waters, a soda, some popcorn, and ice cream. We were allowed to sit on the curb, which made viewing the parade comfortable. It was super hot in our space but they offered a couple umbrellas to stand under. The only bad thing about the space was the parade was backlit from this spot. Dave wasn't pleased with the pictures. But getting escorted behind the parade to the front of the stage for the opening show made up for this - Especially since Chopper from Rebels was standing right by us (Chopper is a droid for the new animated series Rebels and Holly loves him).

We worked some rides into our schedule throughout the morning via Fastpass. Since we had the Deluxe Package we did not have to use any Fastpasses for entry into any of the talk shows. The two shows we attended this year were Star Wars Rebels and Stars of the Saga. We skipped An Ewok's Tale and Obi-Wan and Beyond because we saw these shows in 2013. Rebels and Saga were talk shows hosted by James Arnold Taylor (voice actor) where he interviews other celebrities and plays clips from the shows and movies. Each show opened with a form of a skit involving Stormtroopers. Both shows were fun.

Celebrities this week included Rebels voice actress of the character Hera, the guy who played Nute Gunray in the Prequels, and Wicket the Ewok from Return of the Jedi

We visited Darth's Mall late in the day so our VIP access did not mean too much. Most of the merchandise had that "been there, done that" feel to us so we did not buy much.

We dined at The Brown Derby before heading into our Feel the Force Deluxe Package dessert party (Disney Tip: If any menu item has Zellwood corn, get it. We had the best corn chowder ever at The Brown Derby). We picked one of the back tables in the reserved zone and took turns grabbing items from the dessert bar. We had many items to choose from between cupcakes, panna cotta, and ice cream bars. We could get soda, bottled water, coffee, iced tea, or one of three punches either spiked or virgin. They were all too sweet. The bartenders were not allowed to mix the booze with anything but the specific punch and they did not offer beer or wine. Since the punches were awful we really did not drink during the event. The desserts were ok - they put theme before taste.

While in our paddock the DJ Lobot (DJ Elliot in real life) dance party was in full swing and very enjoyable. Before the fireworks James Arnold Taylor came onstage with another show. This time, we got a look at the new Stormtroopers from the upcoming movie The Force Awakens. The fireworks lasted over 6 minutes with a soundtrack taken from the movies. We hate to say it but the fireworks for last year's Frozen event were better.

After the fireworks we called it a night and headed back by foot to the Boardwalk. We ended up taking our drinks from Bellvue to go. It was a full and very fun day. The package saved us a lot of frustration and Fastpasses, plus gave back a few tangibles in food and drink. We'd likely buy the pass at this price-point with similar features.


DJ Elliot's mixes are available to stream or download from his site Check them out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Our Stay in the DVC Studio at Disney's Polynesian Resort

We'd like to thank everyone for checking out our review of the Polynesian Bora Bora Bungalows. We had a lot of positive response and appreciate the feedback and your questions.

It was hard to check-out of the bungalow that morning, but at least we weren't on our way home just yet. Our last night of this trip was going to be spent in one of the new DVC Studios in the Polynesian's Moorea Longhouse Lagoon View Room. We didn't take too many pictures (or quality ones at that) but we thought the theme of the building was done really well. In the elevator lobby on each floor are sitting areas with mid-modern furniture and 50's style travel-themed artwork. The hallways carried the theme with fun tiki light fixtures and an orange/red prime color scheme. The colors mixed with the wood tone darkened the hall quite a bit.

We drew room number 2023, which put us about 1/2 way between the elevator and the side closest to the main buildings.

We mostly stay in DVC Studio rooms so the first surprise for us was the actual size of the room with the extra bathroom. Most DVC Studios have a bathroom that can only fit a tub and toilet with double-vanity sinks outside in the main room. This room had a large bathroom with a tub, sink, and toilet PLUS another bathroom with shower and sink. Not sure why they didn't change the layout to get another toilet in, but it was still an upgrade from a regular studio. In the morning we each used a separate shower at the same time to get ready and this worked out really well.

Opposite the bathrooms was a closet with full-size electronic safe (no stupid key on a bracelet).

The main room was where we found the queen bed, 2 night stands (another Studio win), pullout couch, table, chairs, and coffee table. Under the flatscreen TV was the pullout bed. The theme was carried through very well with the artwork and room accessories.
Borrowed from tiki
Borrowed from
We were in a hurry to get to the pool! Sorry for the bad picture.
Bedding, chairs, art, lamps, couch, mirror all in one photo
We really enjoyed the view from the room:

Our balcony had a small table and two chairs. Later in the evening we sat on the balcony until around 12:30am and found it very pleasant and relaxing. We watched Wishes in the park (From the new Fastpass+ area which was nice) that night so we do not have any comments on what fireworks are like from the room.

You think the horns are loud from the Bungalows? Try Moorea. Holly said she heard the first horn at 5:30am. We were getting up anyway so on this day it did not bother us. We're coming back in September for a longer stay in these rooms so we will see how the horns really impact us then. As much as the horns could be a detraction, the proximity to TTC is awesome. In less than 3 minutes from leaving the room we were on line for a Magic Kingdom Monorail. This will be beneficial on Epcot days.

At first we were convinced that our upcoming September trip will be our last stay at the Polynesian's DVC units because home resort members will book this up before we'll get a chance to reserve a room seven months out. But since these are studios we may get lucky from time-to-time since many people prefer the one bedroom units. We'll see how it goes in September, but as of now we are fans of this new DVC offering.

For some better pictures of the room, hallway, and sitting areas in Moorea check out and Inside the Magic also has a short video tour of the studios.

And now we present Tonga Toast:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

June Charity of the Month: Feed My Starving Children

Charity of the Month is the way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.

May: We sponsored the Northern Illinois Chapter of the Red Cross to help give aid to those affected by a tornado that went through our area on April 9th. We will be donating $125 plus a matching gift to The Red Cross through their online link at Donate to the Red Cross.

June's Charity:

Feed My Starving Children

Dave's employer, Kraft Foods, sponsors a day of giving back to the community for its employees called "Kraft Cares Day". A variety of projects were organized across the United States and Canada. Dave chose to join over 60 of his coworkers in a volunteer session at Feed My Starving Children in a nearby town. He assumed it would be a typical food shelter pack and box operation, but was quite surprised after he went through orientation.

Feed My Starving Children "manufactures" packaged food that is sent to feed children across the world. The food is specially formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of children in developing markets. We grouped into teams of six and moved into the packing area.  Here's how the tasks were divided:
  • Two people bagging: they opened the bags, placed under the funnel, and adjusted the pack contents to meet weight requirements.
  • Two people scooping: that day we made MannaPack Rice which is a combination of rice, soy nuggets, dried vegetables, and vitamin powder.  Scoopers poured the ingredients into the funnel.
  • One person sealing: they sealed the bags.
  • One person packing: they stacked and packed the cartons.
The energy in the room was high with many people hard at work on their lines, hit music playing, and lots of cheering from our fellow volunteers - a fifth grade class. Workers would come around and replenish supplies and pick up packed cases. When the pack session was over we cleaned and setup the stations for the next round. At the end of the ninety minutes we had packed 134 boxes which will feed 80 children for a year.

All of the materials and raw ingredients are purchased by the organization and the labor to assemble and ship is volunteer work. The organization fund raises in many ways, including hosting a global marketplace with crafts and foods from the communities served. They have a 4-star Navigator rating so you can trust your donation will go straight to helping others.

This was a really moving experience and Dave has suggested gathering a group of friends to share in this experience.

Click this link to go to FMSC's donation page.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Our Stay at the Bora Bora Bungalows at Disney's Polynesian Resort (DVC)

We spent a few days in Florida's Walt Disney World over the Memorial Day Weekend staying in 3 different hotel rooms over several nights. All nights were in Disney Vacation Club (DVC) rooms, with two of those nights in the new Vacation Club rooms at The Polynesian Resort. One night was in a converted studio room in the Moorea building and another night in the new over-the-water bungalows.  We were excited for our first stay at this Disney World fan-favorite resort.

DVC is Disney's version of a timeshare. Members buy points that can be used to book nights in specific DVC rooms, other-non DVC rooms, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, and trade-ins for other timeshare experiences. DVC members have home resorts which give them a booking window advantage at that location. Room offerings range from studio rooms (a base hotel room) up to 3 bedroom villa suites that can sleep 12 guests. Point values for rooms differ by season, resort, view type, size of room, and day of the week.

The Polynesian Resort (The Poly), the first hotel to open on WDW property in 1971, just opened their DVC rooms. We are not owners at this resort so in the long run staying at The Poly again may prove difficult. We were lucky enough to go online the day rooms were released and secured our nights for this trip and a future trip at The Poly.

Bora Bora Bungalows
The Bora Bora Bungalows are currently the most controversial topic in Disney lodging. These beautiful new stand-alone units line the shore of The Poly Beach and are accessible to the guests of the 20 bungalows via gated boardwalks. One controversy is they block the lagoon views on a portion of the shoreline and nearby lower-level rooms.  Another point-of-contention is their cash-value price tag. Since these are DVC rooms they cost more than a standard room, and since these are suites that can sleep up to 8, the price tag is high. Some Disney fans claim these rooms are for the elite, but by using our DVC points the cost-equivalent of the room was much less than the stated cash rate and costs a few more points than the Magic Kingdom Grand Villa at neighboring Bay Lake Tower. It would be an "affordable" option for two DVC families to split. Our Disney plans for the year (or lack of) left us with a point surplus so we decided to splurge for this one night experience as opposed to banking points in perpetuity or renting out on the open market.

Each unit is well-appointed with mid-modern-inspired furniture and homages to that period's love of tiki culture. The units have 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, pull away beds, washer/dryer, four TVs (one in the Master Bath mirror), a large dining table with seating for 8, couch, chairs, and full kitchen complete with dishwasher.
Approaching from the Grand Floridian by boat
Walkway with themed lanterns
Great Castle views from these rooms, but especially the center units
Entrance hall
The living area was much larger than it looked in all the promotion videos and other online reviews. We used the giant dining room table for storing all of our Magicbands, cameras, electronics, etc. It also came in handy when preparing meals (and by preparing we mean taking food out of the to-go boxes from Kona and Captain Cook's). The light control panel in the room is a touchscreen pad with too many complicated options. The pull away bed was stored under the TV and had a fun mural of the Water Pageant on its backside.

The Master Bath had dual vanities, a two-person jet tub (Kohler brand), a separate shower with rain head, and privacy toilet. The bathroom TV was embedded in the mirror.
Time for the Must-dos!
The Master Bedroom had a smallish closet with a few drawers set in it, a desk and chair, huge TV, and a door to the patio. This room also had a complicated lighting console. There were two bathrobes in the room's closet and two in the other room's closet. Hooray for the king bed!
The Master in our unit was dark mainly because of the small windows, but the second bedroom was very bright due to the big picture window. The other pull away bed was under the giant TV in this room featuring a Lilo and Stitch graphic. There's a window bench in this room, and night stands on both sides of the bed (not common in all Disney rooms).
The other bathroom was divided into two separate rooms. One had a tub/shower combo with a single sink, and the other room had a sink and toilet. Access to the bathroom is through the laundry/closet room. The closet in this area contained the usual DVC items: luggage rack, safe, baby playpen, and high chair.

The private deck includes 2 loungers, 2 swing chairs, a small dining set with 4 chairs, a plunge pool, and speaker system that plays the Wishes soundtrack during the fireworks (and nothing else. It would have been awesome if they put the resort music loop through the system.). We also had a telephone outside in a little hidden compartment and a rinse-off shower by the pool.
Our Stay
We left our previous accommodation (Boardwalk Villas) early so we could drop our luggage off with bell services, check-in, and then make it to the Magic Kingdom for an early entry breakfast reservation. Our room wasn't ready at 7:00am (which we expected) and we were told we'd get a text when it was ready. We returned to the resort around noon so we could go swimming. We used the bathrooms to change into our suits and no sooner than we found a lounge chair they announced the fact the pool and deck were closing for lightning near the area. Great! We were allowed to stay in the area because of a loop-hole: The pool bar is divided in half by the pool gate to allow non-guests (whom can't access the pool) a place to get drinks. That side does not close when the pool closes. We were about a third of the way through our beers and then our text came through the room was ready. We already had our keys because they were encoded to our Magicbands.

The Bungalows are a bit of a distance from the main portion of the resort. We were able to access the gate for the bungalows, but could not get into our room. Dave called the front desk. After a few minutes they said someone would be there to let us in but we need to visit the front desk at some point to get our bands recoded.  A nearby housekeeper was called over to let us into the room. We went in the villa and marveled at it for a few minutes before calling bell services for luggage delivery. After about ten minutes they called to ask us to describe the bags. Uh-oh! Twenty minutes later they arrived. In the meantime we were exploring the room and found leftover garments from previous guests, food in the pantry, and some trash in between the counter and wall. This really wasn't a very magical welcome to the Polynesian Resort. Add to that the fact we were in need of lunch.

The bellhop gave Dave a cart ride up to the front desk. It took the cast member about fifteen minutes to fix the bands. During that time Dave let him know about all the issues we were having and how it did not reflect well on the new DVC addition. He offered to have a supervisor come over and Dave accepted the opportunity to visit. After relaying our story we were given some fast passes and other considerations for our difficulties. We are usually not the type to complain, but they needed to know that the service all-around was not up to Disney's usual level.

Lunch came from Captain Cook's quick-serve counter and consisted of Hawaiian flatbread pizza, pork nachos, and Red Stripes. We ate out on the deck and took in all the activity occuring on Seven Seas Lagoon. These activities included the constant flow of the Transportation / Ticketing Center Ferries. We were very close to TTC and the boats seemed to be ever-present blowing their horns. Many guests complain about them, but we became numb to their sound (Even at 5:30am). Speaking of noise, the bungalows are on septic/sump pump systems. A few minutes after the use of water you'll hear a loud whoosh. It would be enough to wake a person at night.

We spent a little time in the pool before deciding to go to the resort store to provision up for our night on the deck. While up at the main building we checked out the new Trader Sam's Grog Grotto. No seats available inside at 4:30 and the wait would be about an hour. All the tables were occupied outside, but many folks had beepers awaiting indoor seats. The patio was pleasant and there was live entertainment. We got some drinks from the take-away bar and headed back to our room. We spent more time in the plunge pool and tried the spa tub in the Master Bath. Great tub with lots of different jet configurations.

We wanted to make sure we had our dinner in-hand before the night time shows started. We walked back to the main building and ordered sushi from Kona's counter. They never indicated the wait would be over 20 minutes so we were getting antsy. We made it back with a few minutes to spare before the Electrical Water Pageant. If you've never seen the show, it's a parade of pontoon boats with nautical-themed animated lights and soundtrack. From our unit we could hear the music before we could see the show. By the time we were viewing the third float, the finale kicked in. Once the show was over they still left some of the float lights on, presumably for the Bungalow's benefit.

We had a great view for Wishes. It was nice to sit on your private lounger with a glass of wine and and music piped into your balcony. Luckily, the units near us were unoccupied allowing us to have a peaceful viewing experience. If our neighbors were in, and having a fireworks party, we might not have enjoyed the experience as much.

The next morning We spent more time in the plunge pool and just relaxed for our final few hours. We ate our Captain Cook's breakfast (Dave went to get it) on the patio while listening to the Welcome Show at the Magic Kingdom. Yes, we could hear the show from our room. The rest of our day would involve heading to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours, coming back to the resort to check into the Studio room (very nice), spending some time outdoors at the main pool, visiting Trader Sam's, dining at Narcoossee's, going back to the Magic Kingdom for Mine Train at night and Wishes, and finally another visit to Trader Sam's. Since that represents a normal Disney Day for us it was nice to "force" ourselves to take the break on Bungalow day.

Was it worth the points? Yes. Fortunately we were in a point surplus position this year so the spend of DVC points for this experience wasn't as "painful" as it would have been in other years. The opportunity cost of this night represented about 8-9 nights in a Boardwalk Studio Room, 4 nights at the Disneyland Hotel, or what we could have gotten in cash on the rental market. But DVC is designed for flexibility and we enjoy having so many options to use our membership as we see fit.  We never would pay the cash rates for the resorts our DVC Membership gives us access to. We are pretty good at maximizing our points other times of the year so a one-time splurge is acceptable. The unit was gorgeous, the privacy we felt in our bungalow and on our patio was terrific, and access to other resort amenities worked well for us. We'd recommend this experience to any family for one night, or several nights if you can find other DVC members to share the experience.